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Brussels, 27 April 2009

EU Youth policies: Frequently Asked Questions

1) Why and since when has the EU taken an interest in young people?

Today's young Europeans are a generation living in a rapidly evolving social, demographic economic and technological environment. The European Union’s youth policies aim to meet young people’s changing expectations while encouraging them to contribute to society. The inclusion of ‘Youth’ as a concept in European policy is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Treaty of Maastricht in 1993 extended the scope of EU policies to include the youth ‘field’, thanks to Article 149 § 2. This states that the EU should “...encourage the development of youth exchanges and of exchanges of socio-educational instructors...”

Before 2001, the activities of the European Institutions in the youth field mainly focused on the consideration and implementation of specific programmes, such as ‘Youth for Europe’, launched in 1988. However, a consensus emerged that this action and cooperation needed to be further built on and that young people themselves needed to be more involved.

In order to widen and deepen the political debate and to go beyond the existing EU programmes, the European Commission considered the development of a genuine co-operation for future decades.

In 2001, the Commission thus adopted a White Paper on youth, "A New Impetus for European Youth", which was the founding document of the framework of political cooperation in the youth field. The framework has continuously developed in response to the evolving expectations of young people, notably to integrate young people's social and professional integration.

2) What is the framework of cooperation 2002-2009? Which are the priorities and the working methods?

The White Paper on Youth contained a proposal to the EU’s Member States to increase cooperation in four priority areas: participation, information, voluntary activities and a greater understanding and knowledge of youth. The White Paper also proposed to take the youth dimension more into account when making other relevant policies, such as education and training, employment and social inclusion, health and anti-discrimination. Among other things, this was a response to the apparent disaffection of young people with traditional forms of participation in public life, and called on young Europeans to become more active citizens.

On the basis of the White Paper, the Council of the European Union in June 2002 established a framework for European co-operation in the field of youth. Later, in November 2005, the framework was updated to take into account the European Youth Pact.

The framework is now made up of three main strands:

  • Young people's active citizenship. The Member States have agreed on common objectives for each of the four priorities of the White Paper. In order to reach these objectives, the Open Method of Coordination is applied. Other instruments to foster young people's active citizenship are the Youth in Action programme, the European Youth Portal and the European Knowledge Centre on Youth Policy. The structured dialogue aims at involving young people in policy shaping debates in relation to the European agenda.
  • Social and occupational integration of young people. With the European Youth Pact, which is part of the Lisbon strategy, the concerns of young people regarding their social and professional integration are taken into account in European policies. The pact aims at improving the education and training, the employability and social inclusion of young Europeans, while facilitating the reconciliation of work and family life.
  • Including a youth dimension in other policies. The European Commission actively works to take youth into account in a number of policies, of which anti- discrimination and health are the most prominent.

In addition to these three strands, the European Union also contributes to the development of the mobility of young people and recognition of their non-formal learning experiences.

The current framework of cooperation comes to an end in 2009.

3) Were young people involved in the preparation of the Commission proposals?

The Commission based its proposals both on the evaluation of the current European framework of cooperation in the field of youth and on extensive consultations with society.

The evaluation showed that the cooperation has produced tangible results and, more generally, the European Union has brought about positive changes for young people. As an example, extensive progress has been made in the fields of education and mobility. Nevertheless, much still needs to be done as there are still big challenges left for the young people of today, such as unemployment or poverty.

The most important consultation exercises were:

  • Consultation with Youth Ministries in the Member States. The Ministries also consulted young people in their countries before submitting replies to the Commission.
  • An online public consultation, to which several thousands of young people have contributed.
  • Thematic dialogue with young people and their organisations, including activities and events during the European Youth Week 2008
  • Consultations with experts (such as youth researchers and national managers of the Youth in Action programme)

4) How are the opinions of youth taken into account in EU youth policies?

The opinions of youth are taken into account from the very outset of the political processes. At the European level, the European Youth Forum is fully associated to the political processes, and at national level Member States consult young people for their national reports on the implementation of youth priorities and for identification of new ones. Young people and their organisations are also associated with European youth events.

The Council Resolution adopted in November 2006 established a structured dialogue between the European institutions and young people, youth organisations and those active in youth work. It has the aim of developing a substantial working relationship between authorities and young people at all levels and ensuring an effective contribution by young people and other relevant actors in the youth field towards the formulation of policies relevant to young people's lives.

The structured dialogue between EU institutions and young people has been implemented by the European Commission in co-operation with the Member States, the European Youth Forum and the National Youth Councils since the beginning of 2007. It is developed with and through youth organisations and involves a large diversity of young people and a broad scope of different youth organisations. The structured dialogue is organised in thematic cycles.

5) What is the Structured Dialogue?

The structured dialogue takes place at the national, regional and local level, but also at the European level. The European Youth Week, organised every 18 months, is one of the main elements of the structured dialogue at European level. In addition, each Presidency of the European Union organises a Presidency Youth Event. The objective of these European Youth Events is to draw conclusions, in terms of formally adopted texts, which then become the subject of political discussion with the EU institutions.

The 'Youth in Action' Programme is the instrument for supporting the structured dialogue in Member States and at European level. Its Action 5.1, "Meetings of young people and those responsible for youth policy", offers means of supporting the structured dialogue at the local, regional and national level.

Young people who wish to participate in the structure dialogue can organise debates or participate in debates. The results of these debates are collected by National Youth Councils and by the European Youth Forum and presented to the European Commission who takes the outcomes into account in the political decision-making process.

Two thematic priorities had been chosen for 2008 and 2009: the theme "Intercultural Dialogue" in accordance with the European Year of the Intercultural Dialogue and the theme "Future challenges for young people" preparing for the future of youth policy cooperation.

For 2010, the Commission has proposed to focus the structured dialogue with young people on Youth Employment. The creation of a working group aiming at revising the methods of the structured dialogue and making it even more efficient and open has also been proposed.

6) What are the other recent developments in the field of European youth policies?

A Council Recommendation on cross-border mobility of young volunteers in the European Union was adopted in November 2008 by the Council of Youth Ministers. It is the first Recommendation in the youth field and its intention is to create more opportunities for young people to engage in volunteering in another country than their own. In practical terms this will be done through improved cooperation of already existing volunteering schemes. The Recommendation encourages Member States to open up their volunteering schemes to young volunteers from other countries. As a first step, this idea is limited to the European Union, but its extension to other parts of the world at a later stage is not excluded.

Youth has been listed as one of seven priorities in the new Social Agenda adopted by the Commission in 2008. The new EU Strategy on "Youth – Investing and Empowering" is a response to the challenges identified for young people in the new Social Agenda.

7) Which are the financial instruments of the political action?

The "Youth in Action" programme (2007-2013) is the specific financial instrument in the youth field that allows supporting the political processes that have been launched in the youth field at European level over the last years.

As regards employment and inclusion, a better exploitation of the facilities offered by the Structural Funds, in particular the European Social Fund is being sought.

In the areas of education and training, synergies with other community programmes have been reinforced.

8) What is "Youth in Action" and how does it function?

Open to young people aged 15-28 (in some cases 13-30), the Youth in Action programme aims to inspire a sense of active European citizenship, solidarity and tolerance among young Europeans and to involve them in shaping the Union’s future by boosting their participation in democratic life. It promotes non-formal learning and intercultural dialogue among European youth, as well as the inclusion of all young people, particularly those from less-privileged backgrounds.

The programme encourages young people's mobility within and beyond the EU borders, thus giving them the opportunity to expand their horizons and gain valuable life and work experiences. With a total budget of € 885 million for seven years (2007-2013), Youth in Action benefits from increased financial resources compared to previous programmes.

The programme funds a large variety of activities through five actions. ‘Youth for Europe encourages young people to participate in democratic life through exchanges and other initiatives. The ‘European Voluntary Service helps young people to develop their sense of solidarity by working on a voluntary project abroad. ‘Youth in the World’ promotes partnerships and exchanges among young people and youth organisations across the world. ‘Youth Support Systems’ include various measures to support youth workers and youth organisations and improve the quality of their activities. ‘European Co-operation in the youth field’ aims to involve young people actively in policy-shaping debates and a more structured dialogue with policy-makers by supporting national and transnational youth seminars, as well as research and cooperation to develop a better knowledge and understanding of youth.

The mainly decentralised system of management allows for closer proximity to beneficiaries. Each participating country works through a National Agency to promote and implement the programme and to liaise with the European Commission, project promoters, and the young people involved. A number of larger projects are managed at European level by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.

All specific criteria applying to each action are laid out in the Programme Guide of the Youth in Action Programme available in all languages on the European Commission's website (

9) What has been the impact of the European programmes for youth over the last 20 years?

Over 20 years, the successive programmes have been of direct benefit to more than 1,6 million young people or youth workers, who took part in youth exchanges, voluntary activities, training, etc.

But the real impact on the youth work is much wider, since the youth workers and youth associations involved in the tens of thousands of projects supported by these programmes have a huge multiplier effect. For example, responding to a recent survey in the context of the evaluation of the former programme (2000-2006), 91% of youth workers who participated in the programme reported added value over other training, which they had received. The programme notably created greater awareness of the intercultural dimension, contact with new working methods and effective support for their professional development. 79% of youth organisations, who took part in a European Voluntary Service project, considered that the project fostered the exchange of good practices; according to the organisations asked, the programme contributed to the establishment of new international contacts between organisations and was able to help strengthen these networks and encourage their continuing existence.

For the young people themselves, the impact is very positive in a number of aspects.

According to the same evaluation, the programme has helped to improve the sense of citizenship of the young participants, in particular in terms of attitude, communication and social skills; for example, 90% of the participants in youth exchanges declared that they had become more tolerant. It strengthened participants' feeling of belonging to the European Union, a greater willingness to become socially involved, learn foreign languages and work in a foreign (European) country, and a better understanding of foreign cultures.

Participation in the programme also affects the employability of young people, particularly young volunteers; 62% of volunteers report an influence on their professional career. It influences education choices. Moreover, these programmes have encouraged non-formal learning: the projects supported by the programmes target learning, rather than "happenings" devoid of any real interest; non-formal learning shows that learning also takes place outside institutional structures like school. Participation in such a programme is generally perceived as a boost to employability, as it develops basic skills.

But there is also an impact at a personal level, which refers to life skills, such as self-esteem, making friends, or vaguer issues such as learning about new cultures, being more open to others, being able to see one's own situation and that of others more impartially, etc. Mobility plays an important role in this learning: in certain countries, it was noted that many participants had never been outside their country and participating in a youth exchange represented a first trip abroad.

Last, these programmes have also had variable impact on national youth policy and sometimes on national legislation; as a Community activity, it is a source of information on how youth policies are pursued in other EU Member States.

10) Youth in Action Programme and the European elections 2009

In 2008, within the framework of the Youth in Action Programme, a call for proposals aimed at supporting information activities for young people and youth workers on the 2009 European elections (Action 4.5b) was launched. Its purpose is to support projects, which promote information and communication actions aimed at young people, youth leaders and people working for youth organisations in order to encourage young people to vote in the 2009 European Parliament elections and to inform them of the importance of this ballot. 23 projects were selected for funding under this call for proposals.

For more information:

Youth in Action Programme:

European Youth Policies:

European Youth Portal:

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